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We were in search of the gravedigger.
Sam Hodgson and I had spent all of last Friday exploring the agricultural enclave of San Pasqual. A few residents had told us that the graves at the modest dirt-hill cemetery were dug by hand, by a man who lived behind the hill in this northeastern-most neighborhood of San Diego.
His story seemed like a perfect one to illustrate how even in California’s second-largest city, you can find many of the quirks of small-town life.
We pulled up to the cemetery.
Sam’s car rattled as it descended the narrow dirt road leading toward the house. Just as we cleared the hill, the house came into view, and so did a vicious barking dog charging straight for his Prius.
I have seen footage of elephants and rhinoceros successfully challenge an automobile’s incursion into its territory. But until Friday, never a dog.
“That dog is not going to let us get out of the car,” Sam said. It was fearless, never relenting its charge as Sam maneuvered a dirt clearing and got back on the hillside path. It chased us clear out to the main road.
We never met the gravedigger.
But it was OK. We’d been able to unearth a few other interesting stories from San Pasqual, one of the five stops in our tour of San Diego neighborhoods during the last several days.
Like in San Pasqual, we were never quite sure what we were going to find, and on a couple of days, we weren’t sure whether we’d find anything interesting. But inevitably, as soon as we started talking to people, we knew there would be stories to tell.
Here’s a recap of our neighborhood blogging project, which we capped off this week with a stop in Rolando.
• In Clairemont, we found that the neighborhood, San Diego’s first major post-World War II development, was grappling with the tensions between young and old as many of its first generation struggled to cope with more recent efforts to inject new life into some of the community’s aging shopping centers. We met some interesting characters, including a fast-talking (but on this day unusually quiet) parrot who has become a fixture at a local coffee shop. And we met a man who built a second story on his house to escape domestic troubles at home (making his house one of the few two-story structures in the neighborhood).
• In Linda Vista, a recent dispute over the redevelopment of an aging roller rink pitted skating advocates from across the county against the neighborhood’s more recent, largely low-income and immigrant residents who hoped to have a new community center. And we found that Linda Vista had become home to at least a couple of new residents who moved there looking to put tough financial times behind them and find a fresh start.
• In San Pasqual, the community is still struggling to regain its sense of identity after it was hard hit by the 2007 wildfires, which destroyed the only central gathering place: the general store. The agricultural valley also lost some of its population after the fire. Some farmworkers could not come back because many of the homes there are owned by the city of San Diego, which did not replace the ones that were destroyed. And one family’s experience told the story of how the valley’s agricultural workers are tied to the land because in order to qualify for housing from the city, they have to make their living there.
• In Nestor, in San Diego’s South Bay, the neighborhood has struggled with an identity crisis. Its geographic isolation from the rest of San Diego leads many people to believe they actually live in Imperial Beach, which is right next door. And neighborhood hotels have struggled to attract customers as cross-border tourism has dried up in recent years.
• Finally, in Rolando on Tuesday, we explored a neighborhood that in some ways illustrates the broader demographic transformation of San Diego as a whole. The quiet suburb, with its quaint homes, larger yards, and pedestrian-friendly streets, has attracted a new generation of ethnically diverse homeowners who are quietly replacing Rolando’s shrinking post-World War II population.
We’ve had fun exploring over the last week and a half, and your help was critical in pointing us in the right direction. We weren’t able to get to every neighborhood readers suggested, but going forward we plan to pop into a new neighborhood every few weeks as we continue getting to know the diversity of our region’s communities. If you’ve got suggestions or ideas, please let me know.